Game-changing manuals focus on witnesses

Game-changing manuals focus on witnesses

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Senior staff reporter
dunkleywillisa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 29, 2020

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THE completion of a national Witness Care Strategy and Action Plan, as well as a Multi-Agency Protocol for Child Justice, has been hailed by key stakeholders as a critical game-changer in the administration of justice by the courts.

The manuals, which are the products of a 2019 Witness Care and Protection Conference, are geared at creating a more comprehensive, integrated and people-centred approach to the treatment, in the justice system, of witnesses and vulnerable victims.

Speaking at the virtual handover ceremony yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn emphasised that “witness care is the great companion to a successful investigation, a successful prosecution, and a successful defence”.

“The investigation and subsequent prosecution of offences is critically dependent on the information provided by the witness. It is the witness who creates the nexus between the accused and a successful prosecution in respect of proof of the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Witness care ensures that potential witnesses remain engaged through the process, from the commission of the crime to the investigations, right through to the end of the trial process. So it is very critical that great care and great respect is taken, by all stakeholders, in respect of ensuring that the witness remains engaged and that they feel validated by the administration of justice and all the stakeholder partners,” she said, in noting that her office has, since 2019, set up a Witness Care Unit.

Llewellyn added: “We know that we have the 'informer fi dead' mentality here and there, we know that we have witnesses who are afraid, but I have been privileged, as a prosecutor for over 30 years, to have met some very, very courageous witnesses, and without courageous witness[es] you have no case. And, if you have no case and you are not able to prove a matter, then the confidence of the public will dip and not even a politically charismatic person can cause that confidence to come up to where we want it to be.”

In endorsing her comments, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck yesterday said, “It's one thing to arrest the alleged criminal, but that's only the beginning... Without effective care and assistance to the witness, who will be needed to come to court to explain, to give the evidence, we can't go forward”.

He said the production of the manuals was important, as they served to, among other things, give “witnesses an understanding of how important it is to be able to keep the material fresh in their minds so that when they come to give evidence they give the best recollection of what took place.”

Chuck also lamented the length of time taken by the courts to deliver judgements.

“We need results, because when people come to court it's not right that they should be waiting years for an actual result, and in the criminal courts I have been at pains to urge to see how quickly we can get cases tried.

“In other words, the witnesses suffer. It is one thing [to] have a witness in witness care and you are regularly in touch with the witness, but after a year they start getting frustrated and, certainly, after two years, they start losing interest in the case. It's very important that we find ways and means to ensure that cases can be tried within a reasonable time, and I daresay a reasonable time is three years,” he said.

The justice minster pointed out that, in some instances, cases are being tried after eight years.

“The witnesses in those cases, certainly their memories have faded, and one wonders when it comes to giving evidence after five, eight years, what is it they actually recollect. So, in my view, we have to find ways and means to assist the courts,” he added.

The publications were made possible under the JUST project implemented by the Government of Jamaica, through the Ministry of Justice's Justice Reform Implementation Unit, with support from Canada's Department of Justice and the United Nations Development Programme.


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